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Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus

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An engrossing, lively history of a fearsome and misunderstood virus that binds man and dog. The most fatal virus known to science, rabies — a disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans — kills nearly one hundred percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. In this critically acclaimed exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years of the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh and often wildly entertaining look at one of humankind’s oldest and most fearsome foes.

275 pages, Hardcover

First published July 1, 2012

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About the author

Bill Wasik

4 books30 followers
Bill Wasik is a senior editor of Wired Magazine, and was previously a senior editor at Harper's Magazine. He has also contributed to McSweeney's and served as Editor of The Weekly Week. Mr. Wasik revealed himself in 2006 to be the inventor of the flash mob, having anonymously organized the first recognized examples in New York City during the summer of 2003. [1][2]

Wasik is the author of And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture (Viking, 2009). He is also the editor, with Roger D. Hodge, of Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper's Magazine (New Press, 2008)

Bill Wasik is credited with introducing the notion of a flash mob in 2003, said in 2010 that he was surprised by the violence of some of the gatherings. He said the mobs started as a kind of playful social experiment meant to encourage spontaneity and big gatherings to temporarily take over commercial and public areas simply to show that they could. “It’s terrible that these Philly mobs have turned violent,” he said

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,188 reviews
Profile Image for Petra X played the long game - and won.
2,383 reviews33.9k followers
February 8, 2017
What I learned from this rather boring book that detailed all incidences of rabidity (new word!) in history and literature where the word "mad" and "dog" occurred in the same sentence, is that you shouldn't get it.

Because if you get it you are going to die a really horrible death. I mean really really horrible. Frightened of the sight of water, desperate thirsty and be unable to drink and then you will get furiously angry, clinically mad and be conscious of all of this, and then paralysed and in great pain you will die. If you live anywhere but America avoid dogs as it is their bites that cause 95% of all infections.

If you live in America than avoid bats as there, 95% of the time it is bats that are to blame. If you only think you've got rabies then you get a course of prophylactic injections with a large-bore needle into your belly for many days.

Unfortunately a creature or a person can be infected with rabies and show no signs of it for 90 days, or in extreme cases 6 years. The virus, active or dormant is not 'noticed' by the white cells, by the immune system until it gets to the brain and by then it is far too late, so this is one virus you aren't going to beat with hot lemon and honey and plenty of bed rest. Best thing is if you get it is to ask to be put into a coma and hope to sleep until Death pulls your name out of her filing cabinet and off you shuffle.


Profile Image for Barbara.
1,298 reviews4,828 followers
August 2, 2021

Rabies, a disease caused by the Lyssavirus, is one of the oldest and most dreaded afflictions in recorded history. The virus, which is transmitted by the bite of an infected creature, creeps along the nerves to the brain - after which it's invariably fatal.

The 'Lyssavirus' that causes rabies

Rabies can infect most warm-blooded animals, but is most often associated with dogs - who've been humankind's companions for thousands of years. People have always been wary of feral dogs, but even a pet canine will bite in the throes of the illness.

Route of rabies viruses through the human body

In current times, a person bitten by a rabid creature can be treated with 'rabies shots' (vaccine), developed by the brillliant chemist Louis Pasteur in the late 1800s. Until then, however, rabies was inevitably a death sentence to humans, and it still is in many poor nations.

Rabies shots

The term rabies comes from the Sanskrit word 'rabha' - which means rage. The name is apt because the disease transforms relatively docile creatures into mad, foaming beasts. The metamorphosis usually takes from 30 to 50 days, depending on the distance from the bite site to the brain. When the virus reaches the brain, it causes a variety of symptoms such as violent movements; uncontrolled frenzy; compulsive biting; hydrophobia (fear of water); partial paralysis; confusion; and sometimes loss of consciousness. Rabies shots work by destroying the virus before it reaches the brain, because once there, the microbe always kills its host.

Drawing of a rabid dog

A rabid dog

This book written by journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy, traces the history of rabies through the ages; the development of rabies vaccine by Louis Pasteur; the impact of rabies on civilization and culture; the devastating rabies epidemic that struck Bali in 2008; and more. The authors also touch on HIV/AIDS which is, perhaps, as dreaded as rabies.

Bill Wasik

Monica Murphy


Rabies has been around for millenia. The ancient Greeks called the affliction 'lyssa' - which means frenzy, and the malady has been mentioned in cunieform writings on ancient clay tablets. The early Mesopotamians feared dog bites and the old Sanskirt medical treatise, the Sushruta Samhita, has an accurate description of rabies, noting that human victims 'bark and howl like the animals that bit them and exhibit water scare'.....after which the disease is always fatal.

Scientists believe that rabies originated in bats at least 12,000 years ago. These flying mammals then infected dogs - who passed the disease to people.

A rabid bat

Human maladies that originate in animals, called zoonoses, are very common. Zooneses include measles and anthrax - from cattle; influenza - from birds and livestock; malaria - from chimpanzees; smallpox, plague, typhus, and monkeypox - from rodents; and dengue fever - from primates.

Rabies was always associated with dogs, which 'domesticated themselves' by hanging around human enclaves for food. This proximity gave rise to a kind of dual identity: on the one hand canines were valuable hunting partners, sheep herders, and companions; on the other hand they were terrifying conveyers of rabies.

The consequences of being bitten by a mad dog led to the search for remedies, and many rabies treatments were proposed through the ages. Old texts from different parts of the world include the following suggestions:

- Bleed and cauterize the bite wound.
- Treat the wound with a sesame paste.
- Treat the wound with a paste of garlic, nettles, leeks, chives, olive oil, and vinegar.
- Feed the patient a firebaked cake made of rice, roots, and leaves.
- Kill the offending dog, remove its brain, and rub it on the wound.
- Apply salt or a brine pickle to the wound.
- Give the patient a steam bath, then pour wine into the wound.
- Set a rooster's anus on the wound, to draw out the poison.

Of course none of these therapies worked, and some people tried a prophylactic approach. The kings of France, for instance, sent their dogs to church once a year, where a mass was sung and candles were lit, in hopes of preventing rabies.

Over time it became clear that creatures other than dogs can pass rabies to humans, and people have been infected by bites from cats, coyotes, foxes, bats, skunks, and raccoons.

Besides being medically important, rabies also had a profound effect on human culture. In 1998, the Spanish neurologist Dr. Juan Gomez-Alonso speculated that rabies inspired the vampire legends of the 1800s. Gomez-Alonso pointed out that both rabies victims and vampires tend to be aggressive; to bite others; to display hypersexuality (rabies victims ejaculate repeatedly); to exhibit facial spasms (drawn back lips); and to wander at night.

It's quite possible that werewolves and zombies also stem from rabies, and that all of these 'monsters' are actually rabid humans that were misunderstood by superstitious people.

Rabies victim depicted on the television show 'Criminal Minds'

Depiction of a vampire

Depiction of a werewolf

Depiction of a zombie

Rabid (or savage) dogs and bloodthirsty humanoids have become staples of books, films, and television shows, and the authors discuss the appearances of these creatures (with plot details) in the following:

Wuthering Heights; Jane Eyre; Dracula; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Their Eyes Were Watching God; Old Yeller; I Am Legend; The Zombie Survival Guide; World War Z; Rabid; Day of the Mad Dogs; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; The Walking Dead.
(Note: most of these books were made into movies and/or television shows.)

Werewolf of London; Night of the Living Dead; Shaun of the Dead; 28 Days Later (the authors' favorite 😊)

The storyline of 'Day of the Mad Dogs' involves a married couple circumventing quarantine laws to bring a dog from France to England. The dog soon goes mad, and the ensuing rabies epidemic has catastrophic consequences. Unfortunately, something like this REALLY HAPPENED in Bali in 2008 (as described in the book), and it took years - and drastic measures (including culling thousands of dogs) - to get the scourge under control.

Wasik and Murphy emphasize that widespread dog vaccination is very effective for controlling the disease.

A dog getting a rabies vaccination

Unfortunately, the practice is too expensive for many developing countries, and 55,000 people die from rabies each year.....mostly in Asia and Africa.

Though rabies has been a scourge on the animal kingdom, it has one silver lining. The Lyssavirus, which is able to make its way into the brain, has helped scientists learn how to get drugs past the blood-brain barrier and into the human central nervous system.

I found the book to be interesting and informative and highly recommend it to readers interested in the subject.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,454 reviews2,319 followers
April 13, 2017
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy is a wonderful and insightful look into the history of this deadly virus. This book covers the myths, old remedies, different animals effected, several famous cases, the search for a vaccine, and so much more. It also describes the symptoms of the virus, the length of time for symptoms to appear and what may change this, etc. Very detailed without being boring. Great book.I got the audio version from the library.
Profile Image for Beverly.
774 reviews266 followers
November 14, 2018
I read this micro-history for a book challenge, but came away super impressed and want to read more of this genre. This one, specifically, is well written and concise. I love how he reaches into the zeitgeist and pulls out the art works from each period that mirror the particular rabies scare that is occurring. He references Goya (my favorite artist) in this section:

Around the same time, the Spanish painter Francisco Goya was using spectral, bat-like figures to symbolize vampiric forces. Great shadowy bats hover above a slumped figure of Reason, in The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, and also, in There is Plenty to Suck, behind three murderous hags as they prepare to consume a basketful of babies. His Los caprichos illustrate a series of vampire-like figures in the act of devouring sleeping innocents.

Goya is of course referencing more than just our superstitions here, he is revealing what happens if we let them overtake us. He worked during the late 1700s and early 1800s when there was still a cult of vampires and werewolves in Europe.
Profile Image for Shawn.
297 reviews19 followers
July 23, 2016
I picked up this book because I had to go through rabies shots and experienced the totally hysteria (not me...everyone else) this virus causes and wanted to know more. Good information on rabies is surprisingly hard to find. I found the book fascinating, not just because of my own experience (I'll tell that at the bottom of the review for anyone who is interested) but because rabies is so intertwined with (1) our relationship with animals(2) literature and movies, (3) history and (4) science. The book goes into all of these areas.

If you love history or science or are a reader of non-fiction you will find this book fascinating. I called people while reading this book to tell them they must read it!

Here are some facts about rabies (this list is for people wanting/needing to know more about rabies. I created this list because this is what I would have wanted to know when I was bitten and trying to research rabies. The book is a lot deeper than the information provided in this list.):
1) once you are symptomatic for rabies it is 100% fatal (with some very few recent exceptions and most of these had brain damage or years of physical therapy afterwards)
2) 55 000 people die of rabies every year. Most of these people are in Asia and Africa.
3) 40% of people who are bitten by suspected rabid animals are children under 15 years of age.
4) most human rabies cases come from dogs bites. Dogs with rabies have a lot of saliva which caries the virus. We also have a lot of contact with dogs. This is why vaccinating dogs is so important.
5) when you have rabies you really do foam at the mouth and are afraid of water, and men afflicted ejaculate uncontrollably 20 + times a day until death
6)the amount of time from bite to death varies greatly from days to a year. One reason for the variance is the distance of the bite to the brain. Most die within a month or two (I believe that is what I read)
7) the rabies virus is in the saliva and in the brain of the host
8) you can die of rabies from even a tiny bite, even if you wash it well etc. HOWEVER (according to the World Health Organization http://www.who.int/rabies/human/WHO_s...) washing the bite thoroughly can help and/or even prevent the virus (you will still want to get the shots though). The only "cure" is the vaccine which must be taken before you are symptomatic. Remember rabies for all essential purposes is 100% fatal if you wait until you have symptoms.
9) from my own experience - if bitten by an animal suspected of rabies (like an unprovoked attack etc or by a wild animal or a bat) you do need to get the shots. Even if the bite is tiny and you washed it well afterwards. The shots are nowhere near as bad as they say. They are in the arm and bottom and not in the stomach anymore. If you get the shots be sure to work out HARD afterwards. That will disperse the fluid and make the shots less painful. If you don't work out the muscle afterwards then even the tiny shots at the end will hurt for weeks. The best advice I got was after my first series of shots (4 giant shots the first day) was not to go back to work but to go the the gym and work out harder than I ever have in my life. I did and was just a little sore from the bite.

oh...and if you get bitten by anything...wash the bite for 20 minutes under running water and use some type of soap or antiseptic (I actually ran into other issues and infections that I wouldn't have gotten had I not washed the bite for only a few minutes)

10) Until the 1930s (the vaccine was created much earlier than this) or so people were regularly bitten by dogs, bats etc and died horrible, horrible deaths from rabies. For most of human history people lived in total terror of rabies. Then we started vaccinating dogs...
11) Due to the terror, rabies has a prominent place in classic literature. There are those who theorize that Edgar Allen Poe may have died of rabies, not madness (he had all of the symptoms of rabies). A lot of horror literature comes from our terror of rabid animals and people.
12) the rabies vaccine helped change medical science and the research learned from the development of this vaccine helped change medicine and our lives as humans forever
13) most bad human diseases (swine flu, H1N1, plagues, small pocks, AIDs etc) are cross over animal diseases
14) any warm blooded animal can get rabies...here is another website with some good info that I wish I had when I was bit. http://www.doh.state.fl.us/chd/bay/Ra...

My Story - I got bit by a cat in Honduras (unprovoked although the hand that I got bit and my legs were both bleeding at the time and I was eating fish...long story) a few years back and had to get the rabies shots.

I figured the cat was hungry and got excited because he smelt the blood and the fish, I didn't think he was rabid. I just washed off the cut and got myself another whiskey (a double this time) when it happened. But that night the hand swelled up 3 times its regular size (cat saliva is very dangerous and this was from the germs in it and not rabies) and was burning hot, so the next morning I headed to the hospital. I got a tetanus shot there. I tried to refuse the shot because the hospital was so dirty and I was worried about getting Hepatitis from dirty needles. Anyway they actually held me down and gave me a shot I didn't need (given where I go I am vigilant on my immunizations)but my Spanish wasn't good enough for that conversation.

When I got back to the US a few days after getting bit, I went to the doctor because I was worried about reused needles (rabies hadn't even entered my mind). I was told I needed rabies shots. So I called my insurance company to try to figure out the cost of the shots and if there had been any reports of rabid animals on the island I was on before deciding if I should get the rabies shots... and everyone went nuts. Someone contacted the people in Honduras and told them they had to find the cat based on my description of the shack I was at when I got bit and I heard they had people running around everywhere looking for that wild cat.

Anyway, the local officials came to my workplace and got everyone (but me) so worked up they were in tears. I had people calling my family members and they were in tears. Then the local officials took me to the state office for the shots and the poor lady there was so nervous about giving me the first set of shots she was trembling something terrible and could barley talk. The shots are not THAT bad (if you work out afterwards they really don't hurt..)but it caused a bit of a scandal and makes for a good party story.

The short of it is...animal bites are very dangerous...especially unprovoked ones...if you get bit contact your local officials and report it. They will tell you want to do. AND if you find a bat in the room you sleep in report it even if you don't find a bite mark (bats are very dangerous). If there is any doubt get the shots...and if you love history or science or non-fiction books...read the book
Profile Image for Marin.
22 reviews6 followers
August 26, 2012
I have a confession to make. While I enjoy non-fic books, due to the general lack of plot payoff, I am often not compelled to finish them. In fact, I usually lose interest halfway through and abandon them in favor of some fiction trifle.

There was no way that was happening with Rabid. Wasik and Murphy have crafted a book that is equal parts biology, medicine, anthropology and horror story. Its odd to use an adjective like "gripping" in description of a science book, but boy howdy is it ever! The story of Pasteur's life and discoveries were especially thrilling, following him through his passionate pursuit of causes and cures for the diseases that plagued humanity in the 19th century, and culminating in his laser-focus on the terrifying rabies.

The authors also take us on a tour of rabies through human culture and myth, how it plucks at our deepest fears - of our closest companions turning on us, of the horror of losing control of our own minds. I was surprised at how long rabies has been with us. While other diseases came and went - often vanishing entirely and leaving humanity with heightened resistance to future outbreaks, rabies, with its 100% mortality rate, seemed always to be lurking out there in the dark. I found myself wondering if rabies played upon our natural fears, or if our fears sprung from a disease which has always haunted us.

The science is accessible to the lay reader, and interspersed with human touches, so it never felt too clinical. There were moments when I wiggled in my chair thinking "DAMN, science is awesome!" This book is informative and fun, with enough gruesome description to add morbid entertainment for those who like a little scare in their reading

Profile Image for Jay Green.
Author 4 books230 followers
November 24, 2016
A reasonably good "cultural history" of rabies but one feels there was so much left unexamined. Chapters deal with vampires and werewolves and their relationship to the disease, the rabies scare of the 1970s in the UK, recent treatment and discoveries, the work of Pasteur in finding a cure, and various other aspects of the illness, but some chapters felt like filler and others felt incomplete. Treatment of the disease in books and movies was fairly limited, and other artforms are ignored altogether. Religious attitudes toward and understanding of the disease might have been interesting, as well as a comparative examination of government responses; How did Hitler's Germany respond to the disease, for example, or how was it mobilized as a metaphor to be used for persecution of outsiders? Marx uses the vampire as a metaphor for the capitalist. Couldn't we have explored that further? I don't know. Perhaps my expectations were too high for a book that provides a good, general overview and introduction. Three and half stars, then. I've persuaded myself.
Profile Image for David.
74 reviews7 followers
April 23, 2013
First, I should mention that I am a biologist with a background in microbiology. This directly colors my view of this book. On the plus side, I found it entertainingly written and not at all stuffy and academic. It successfully covers a great deal of interesting encounters with rabies and presents them in a compelling way. On the negative side, I found some of the language overly dramatic and downright misleading. The books repeatedly applies words like evil, malignant and satanic to a virus, which any intro to micro student could tell you is just silly. A virus may cause a dreadful disease process in its host, but it cannot be evil. At the end of the day, it is a capsule containing a small amount of DNA that has fallen into a very successful replicative strategy. The disease part is actually rather incidental. All in all, though, this was an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,782 followers
July 1, 2021
Back in 1956 a man named Fred Gipson wrote a "children's book" which is one of a group of children's and young people's books I refer to as "the Marquis De Sade school of children's literature". In 1957 Walt Disney in all his/their wisdom decided to make a "children's movie" of that book. It was of course Old Yeller. That book left me and countless other kids (I would have been 5 at the time) with an abiding fear of Rabies. I can honestly say that I went through a good deal of my life with a phobia of the disease.

By the way the movie/book is mentioned in passing along with Cujo in this volume.

What we get here is a history of Rabies though it is really mostly an account of the folklore and superstations that have surrounded this plague throughout history. Almost 100% lethal (and in the past probably 100% lethal) this is and has always been a horrific sickness and a hellish way to die. The author goes back and shows us where rabies has probably been with us (humans) since there were humans...and of course dogs. Dogs being the longest term companion of human kind the plague has marched with us through time.

He shows us also how it probably ties in with many of our ancient fears, including lycanthropy and vampirism.

He dose finally, maybe the last third to quarte of the book give us some of the more modern research and situation now in our battle with this killer. While I won't say it helped me much it is informative and I'd recommend it if you are interested in the subject.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,309 reviews1,596 followers
June 1, 2018
When I saw this on Audible and that it was focused on the cultural aspect of rabies, I knew this would be really interesting, and I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed it, and I learned a whole lot about both the virus itself and how it works, as well as how this one virus has ingrained itself in cultural lore more than anything else. It shapes our language, our fears, our literature and movies, and even our science. This one virus has both taken from and given so much to humanity, it's staggering.

This book explores all of that, and does it really well. It's heartbreaking and sometimes really hard to listen to for an animal lover like me, but at the same time, I have to admit that there's no other way to understand something like this than to see how it behaves in a live host. And it's quite brutal.

I listened to the audio for this, as I do, and while I mostly enjoyed it in this format, there were some really weird audio quirks going on. It would go completely silent at times, for instance. Not like "the reader is not saying anything" silent, but "there's literally no sound, not even open mic 'air' sound, coming from my headphones right now". It's like the recording was stopped, but the tape kept rolling, and it wasn't edited out. Then there were times when it sounded like certain parts were re-recorded, because some words or phrases in the middle of a sentence or paragraph would sound different from the surrounding segments. Distracting, especially because it would tend to happen when something exciting or exuberant was being read, so it struck me as like the type of bad computer voice stuff that tries really hard to sound realistic but tends to pause and over-emphasize some things. Just weird.

Finally, as much as I highly recommend this (along with most of the nonfiction I read, because DUH, I chose it, which makes it interesting! :P), I was quite annoyed by the literature references sprinkled throughout this book.

You'd think that I would enjoy it, and ordinarily I would because I love seeing the inspiration and ideas behind things, but I think that these authors took their summaries too far, and spoiled quite a few books in the process. They were VERY liberal in their summaries, and tended to recap the whole plot on multiple occasions when it really wasn't necessary. Only one was truly spoiled for me, thankfully, because I'd read the others, but there were quite a lot of books mentioned and "analyzed" for their relation to rabies - either as direct plot, potential inspiration, or maybe-could-be-interpreted-as-rabies-if-you-squint kind of stuff. Major plot points were revealed in almost all of them. Not cool.

These include, from memory, and it's late, so it will probably NOT be all of them:
- Wuthering Heights
- Jane Eyre
- Their Eyes Were Watching God
- Old Yeller
- Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
- Dracula
- I Am Legend
Now I know that this is a "cultural history" and so references in literature are relevant, but I think that they could have managed that without giving full on plot spoilers for these books. For the record, I do not subscribe to the "It's been out long enough, so it can't really be spoiled" school of thought regarding classics, movies, or TV. Everyone lives and reads differently, and at their own pace. just because something is a classic or has been out there in the wild for a week or a month or a year or a decade or whatever... does NOT mean that it's been experienced by everyone and that it will not still be new to someone at some point.

Anyway, marks off for that. Otherwise, this is a great book, and I highly recommend it.

That is all.
Profile Image for Paul.
Author 109 books7,894 followers
July 31, 2017
A well-researched and at times icky, horrifically fascinating pathological and social history of Rabies. I suggest you listen to the audio while walking your dog, like I did. Adds to the feels.
Profile Image for Christopher.
643 reviews209 followers
February 27, 2014
I became interested in rabies when I heard that amazingly scary story on This American Life (319:And the Call Was Coming from the Basement, Act One) where a woman was attacked by a 30-pound rabid, seemingly devil-possessed raccoon. The raccoon charged her, snarling and spitting, latched onto her leg, and wouldn't let go until it was hit about fifty times with a tire iron. Rabies has the ability to change its host's nature. If the host is a reclusive, meek raccoon or a friendly, loyal dog or a perfectly normal human, rabies will change them into a ravening, bloodthirsty beast.

So that's why rabies is super interesting and that's why I wanted to read this book. My problem with it is that it's barely about rabies. As its title suggests, it is a cultural history, so the science minimal and that's okay with me. But the authors draw too many tenuous connections between culture and rabies. Zombies are obviously inspired by rabies. But vampires, less so. The rage of Achilles, even less. There was an abundance of history of dogs in this book that was barely relevant.

A lot of people seem to like this book, but I found that I learned more about rabies by reading Wikipedia. I'd also recommend listening to this Radiolab show about rabies, in which the authors are interviewed. It was one of the most illuminating Radiolab shows I've heard.
Profile Image for Jason Walker.
149 reviews4 followers
October 6, 2012
Read it. You won't want to think about it, but you will. Once you have read it you will question squirrels' behavior, but eventually you will get over it.
79 reviews
November 10, 2013
This was a good 100 page book padded by a lot of loosely connected materials that may - or may not - have had anything to do with rabies. Sure, vampires, werewolves, and zombies might draw some of their inspiration from rabies... but just because Dracula is fond of wolves and can turn into a bat doesn't necessarily make him a rabies vector. I think this level of pop culture review ("cultural history") is fine in the proper doses... but too much of this book wandered around descriptions of books that had rabies in them or stories and myths that merely had dogs in them (and Cujo was only mentioned once and that, I suspect, was one of the more "important" examples of rabies in pop culture of the recent past... you'd think that'd get a more thorough analysis). Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a dog is just a dog.

The chapters on the search for a vaccine, Bali, and NYC's rabies outbreak were pretty interesting and what this book needed to be more about. I think it ultimately took too much of a focus on popularizing science by taking large doses of science out of it. There's a balancing act for the lay person (which I am) and this one didn't get it right.
Profile Image for Erin *Proud Book Hoarder*.
2,378 reviews1,051 followers
January 27, 2016
Everyone has weird interests that don’t really make sense. One of mine is that I’ve always been fascinated by the disease rabies. How it works, its cultural history, its effects, its terrifying possibilities. This interest just isn’t something explored much in literature or nonfiction, at least not that I’ve run across. When I asked for a recommendation for rabies-themed novels, this suggestion immediately interested me and I ordered it in a rush.

No matter how interesting the subject or well done the writing, I read non-fiction slowly. A flaw for sure. This one fascinated me from the beginning; the writing style helped bring the subject material to life in a smooth, non-pretentious manner. Not dry at all, and perhaps sometimes taking liberties with humor, I hold no complaints for the writing form. I do think sometimes the authors tended to drag on a point of view too long, or overemphasize certain sections where it became slightly tedious.

The book focuses mainly on the dog and how it has been the main vehicle for the virus, at least in the perceived notions of mankind. In fact bats may be more to blame, as is credited briefly in the book, but since the nonfiction piece focuses on the culture and society’s outlook on the disease, it focuses more on canines than anything else. I was intrigued by some of the history with the dog and legends.

There’s a lot tied into Greek mythology and the history of the dog and hellhounds, as well as the original treatment processes for the misunderstood disease. They’re put inside creatively named chapters such as “The Middle Rages.” ‘In the Beginning’ was the first part after the fascinating intro. From Ayurveda, which I always found interesting, makes me inclined to believe they were more on the right track in ancient times than others. Some of the treatments were just awful. Reading these chapters brought to mind my courses in humanities last year.

Celsus’ recommendation at the end of the chapter? *Shudders* The poor people were already suffering from rabies, I’m sure this made it a much worse death!

“If he cannot swim, let him sink under and drink, then lift him out; if he can swim, push him under at intervals so that he drinks his fill of water even against his will; for so his thirst and dread of water are removed at the same time.”

“If this proto-waterboarding happens to spur muscle spasms in the subject, Celsus recommends he be “taken straight from the tank and submerged into a bath of hot oil.”

Mythology continues awhile, and while I found the information about the origin of rage and name derivations like lycos and rage intriguing, I was especially wanting more information on the cultural invention of vampires and shapeshifters.

I’ve read some information in personal studies on how rabies influenced these legends, but I don’t think the authors fully explored this as much as they could have. It seems they strangely skirted over this a little. Why, I don’t know.

When I did a week doing different posts on Edgar Allen Poe for The Paperback Stash, I came to the conclusion that he may have died from rabies, but more likely from the political corruption of that time. I appreciate the authors putting in the theory he died from this disease and the evidence supporting the theory.

King Louis was best chapter of the book, its crowning glory. I already had such respect for the man but this chapter gives even more indepth details into his life and how much he accomplished. Fascinating, a true hero in the sense of the word. Not only for his accomplishments, but for his courage in those times to try unconventional methods. Pasteur was definitely a genius ahead of his time and I’m glad his colleagues got him out of the duel an opponent that took issue with his methods proposed. If he had died in a senseless fight, the immunology methods he nursed, the rabies treatments, may have been delayed by countless years.

The methods researchers had to employ before are sobering: several men held the rabid dog down while another extracted saliva from its reaching, snarling snout. If they were bit, they were shot instantly. Yikes!

I found it hauntingly sad how it played out and was written about the first human he saved, the small child the village saved up for and sent his way to be rescued. He waited by the bedside of Joseph Meister by night, worried he would die despite his intentions, overjoyed when he was saved. When his treatments worked and through the years he met more success, Pasteur created clinics and research facilities. As an adult, Meister was one of the first to donate, and one of the most sizable contributions.

Meister is such a success, but meets a sad end that’s written strangely on pg. 148:

“Pasteur’s remains were interred not in the Pantheon but instead, according to his family’s wishes, in a specially appointed crypt beneath the Institut Pasteur. There, fifteen years later, his wife, Marie, would be laid to rest also. Mosaics depicting Pasteur’s research triumphs watched over the tombs – and so did Joseph Meister, who, years after being the first to be vaccinated against the horror of rabies, became the concierge of the institute. When the Nazis, on occupying Paris, attempted to visit the Pasteur crypt in 1940, Meister bravely refused to unlock the gate for them. Soon after this discouraging event, he took his own life.”

The chapter for King Louis showed the scientific establishment against him, even when his vaccinations took off. The coma induced attempts and trials by Dr. Rodney Willoughby when discussed modern day survivors hints that more exploration should be given in researching if his theories are correct. There was a lot of hope, but still over six years later he never got the research money and not enough funding has been supplied elsewhere to explore the theory for treatment. The chapter Island of the Mad Dogs explores how Bali, previous rabies free, became alarmingly busy with rabies through one dog spreading it swiftly. There it was a struggle to encourage the government to vaccinate rather than actively and savagely destroy the dogs.

These all show one thing – much of the fight against the disease is delayed by human ignorance. Not only in Louis Pasteur’s personal battles with the hostile community of his day, but even with the proposed treatments of the 90’s. Only continued persistence from Janice Girardi (and maybe fueled in part by outraged protests from animal groups) encouraged Bali to begin vaccinating island wide.

The conclusion makes a cool point I didn’t know – that rabies is now being seen as one possible way to break the blood-brain barrier. This has always been a frustrating barrier preventing treatments for certain ailments, and there are only limited theories of how to break it. Isolating certain components in rabies may be used to develop a way to get into the system in a way that actually reaches the brain in the way it needs the treatment, making the brain barrier cease to exist for these stubborn ailments.

Whether this will ever be developed and whether it will work remains to be seen. It could be a major medical breakthrough. It has already been shown to work in mice by delivering large amounts of an Anti-Alzheimer’s RNAi to their brains.

As the book notes, it would be a wonderful irony to take the disease that has destroyed so many minds of man in the past and use it to save the minds of many in the future. Of course my silly mind thought of zombies stories and planet of the ape sequels coming to life with this theory too!

Overall an excellent book I’m so happy I picked up. I took away a star because I felt some of the cultural explorations were a little lacking and some too explored, and even if it’s a cultural history, I’d still have enjoyed further exploration about the mechanics of the virus itself. I guess that will be learned by picking up another book on the subject.

The book takes this modern chapter’s hope to end with a beautiful note going back into its starting point with mythology on page 236: “One is reminded of Orpheus, who, in search of his dead love Eurydice, employed his beautiful music to retrieve her from the underworld. ‘Cerberus stood agape,’ records the poet, ‘and his triple jaws forgot to bark.’
Profile Image for GoldGato.
1,118 reviews40 followers
August 31, 2016
It's always interesting to read about the various diseases which live side-by-side with humans and mammals. Rabies, especially, is the scariest because we know that one day our best buddy Old Yeller might just decide to attack us. This most evil virus keeps us on our toes, making us diagnose creatures to see if their normal behavior has changed recently.

The book covers the whole spectrum of rabies including zombies, books, and movies. For me, that's where the book bogged down. But the chapters on Pasteur, rare human survivors, and Bali (where rabies returned with a vengeance) were intriguing. For all of our precautions and canine/feline vaccines, however, we would still need to look out for elusive bats.

I wouldn't read this one on a dark night when the wind is blowing. Nope.

Book Season = Year Round (keep your eye on the sparrow)
Profile Image for Zenda.
1,503 reviews
October 26, 2022
This was an excellent read. I did not realize how pervasive rabies is to our society and it's view of disease and how it had impacted society in general through it's folklore, movies, books, and views of medicine in general.
Profile Image for Laura McLain.
Author 1 book24 followers
October 1, 2012
Really fascinating book. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a veterinarian and am slightly obsessed with public health and infectious diseases!)

Rabies is virus which causes a virtually 100% fatal neurologic disease in all mammals, including humans. Even in the 21st century, over 50,000 people worldwide die of rabies every year. It is a horrible death of alternating periods of lucidity and psychosis, pain, fever, convulsions, hallucinations and hydrophobia (pathologic fear of water).

Wasik and Murphy weave together a history of rabies and civilization. Although many of the scary epidemic infectious diseases of humans, including Ebola, West Nile, SARS, swine flu, and hanta, are zoonotic (transmitted from animals), only rabies was known to be zoonotic before humanity ever considered the existence of bacteria and viruses. Think of bubonic plague (“The Black Death”): people didn’t realize it was caused by a bacterium spread by the bite of a rat flea. But rabies: slobbering psychotic dog bites human, human turns into slobbering psychotic animal. It was obvious even four millennia ago that rabies was transmitted by animals, particularly canines.

The book looks at theories, preventatives and “cures” over the millennia (the most effective preventative prior to vaccination was cauterizing the fresh bite with a red hot poker); history (St. Hubert is the healer of rabies sufferers); mythology (the slaver of Cerberus spreads both rabies and aconite); connections of rabies to werewolf and vampire legends; the handful of documented survivals of rabid humans; weird ideas that people have had to prevent rabies in dogs (one theory suggested rabies spontaneously arose in dogs due to sexual frustration and suggested prevention by creating “doggy bordellos”); rabies in various species (l’enfant du diable = the devil’s child, a skunk); history of canine mass killings in an attempt to stop epidemics; and a recent rabies epidemic on the supposedly rabies-free island of Bali.

The most fascinating chapter explains how Louis Pasteur developed the first rabies vaccine in the late 1800’s. In fifteen years of veterinary practice, I have never seen a case of rabies and hope I never do. Pasteur (who is also the father of pasteurization and food safety) maintained rabid animals in his lab, putting himself and his staff at continual risk of gruesome death. By repeatedly transferring rabies directly from one rabbit’s brain to another they developed a highly virulent strain, and then to “tame” that strain to be a vaccine, they left the rabbit’s spinal cord out to air-dry for a few days. Imagine how terrifying it must have been for him to inject that dried-out rabid spinal cord into the young boy who was the first test subject. The boy survived both the initial rabid bite and the cure.

Recommended for anyone who likes history, biography or medicine.

And a soapbox moment: Make sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are current on their rabies immunizations, and never approach an ill or strangely-behaving bat, skunk or raccoon.
Profile Image for William Thomas.
1,224 reviews2 followers
March 19, 2015
Rabies. It's the basis for a lot of horror mythology, especially the American zombie. So how can you take something that could be so highly entertaining- the most deadly disease in history at a 99% mortality rate- and turn it into the most disjointed and disastrous narrative history I've ever read?

There are points where this book references The OFFICE for christssakes. I mean, come on. The padding in this book was nauseating. So much filler, so many unconnected and uninteresting stories that it was just mind-numbing.

And it took 2 people to write it. Yeah. 2.

Grade: D
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 1 book26 followers
September 10, 2020
This was a treat of a read. I've always found rabies interesting, having watched Old Yeller and Cujo many times growing up. I was very interested in how this book presented the idea that humanity's instinctive fear of rabies gave rise to the myths and folklore tales of vampires and werewolves. Zombies, in particular, represent our deepest fear of a disease spread through a bite, which turns the victim into a raging, chomping thing. Rabies has certainly gripped the human mind and soul with a terror that's still present, despite fairly easy and successful treatments that have existed for over a century now. This was a fascinating book, and I'm glad I read it.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,686 followers
March 23, 2016
Very interesting - first third a little slow and repetitive, but all the rest is great. A well researched and scary look into the effect rabies has had on our society throughout the years. Seems like the author can tie almost anything (art, books, movies, etc.) back to rabies. Might not be a good book for you if you get grossed out easily.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
509 reviews301 followers
March 18, 2021
I picked this up while I was browsing books at the library. The minute I opened it I was sucked in and ended up spending most of the afternoon at the library reading this book.

Even if you're not really into viral pathology I will still say to give this book a try. It reads more like a mixture of horror story, history and anthropology lesson. The authors give an astonding amount of insight to how this virus (and other sickness like it) can be traced through out human history, and how it helped shape us in many ways we never realized.

I read this for research, but I plan to buy it because it is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read.
Profile Image for Tanja Berg.
1,808 reviews403 followers
January 7, 2014
Rating 3.4* out of 5. This is a perfectly readable cultural history of rabies, a dreaded virs disease spreading predominantly from dogs to humans. From the very beginning the book makes clear that the fear of rabies has generally been greater than the threat. Then again, according to the World Health Organization, 55000 people die of rabies a year. This is a much smaller number than people dying from malaria, say, but that is of a little comfort to the ones who develop symptoms. There are are only handful of survivors - ever - after symptoms have been developed.

The book takes us through historical accounts of rabies, through its presentation in popular culture (books and films) to Pasteur's development of a vaccine against the disease. It's interesting enough, but I am still left slightly disappointed. The two things I've learned is that the only sure way of diagnosing an animal with rabies is through brain tissue - ie killing it. I thought there were more modern ways now.* The second thing is that it was Louis Pasteur who developed the vaccine. I knew he was a great man, the first to recognize microbes as agent of disease and to encourage hygiene, but I didn't know (or remember) that he was also the developer or rabies vaccine.

*In 1988 I caused the death of a dog that had to be tested for rabies after having made an unprovoked attack and bit me from behind in the area of my left knee. This was in Thailand, where rabies still kills and where street dogs are still regularly culled through poison. The doberman which bit me was just ill bred and did not have rabies. I grew up with the fear of rabies and this fear did not culminate with the doberman bite. After all, that dog was tested and after a two week wait - which I did not find agonizing - came back negative. Besided, the dog was gone and couldn't terrorize me on a regular basis anymore. No, the culmination of my fear was when I was bit by neighbor's puppy, by accident. I was teaching it tricks and holding a morsel which it grabbed rather too roughly. I didn't say anything, not wanting to risk the dog's life, and waited for symptoms for weeks. Which thankfully never appeared. Jeez, I was silly. The dog was probably even vaccinated, something I could have asked about.

I have no trouble recognizing the fear and even hysteria surrounding rabies, having lived in areas where dogs regularly contracted the disease. Of having days a year when we children were kept inside because officials were hunting for a rabid street dog. I find that the authors belittle, tone down, this fear - although I probably over emphasize this aspect because I grew up afraid. All in all it is a quite instructive and interesting read.
Profile Image for Dov Zeller.
Author 2 books104 followers
November 4, 2016
When I first picked up this book I was annoyed that the writers, a married couple, a journalist and a veterinarian, seem so intent on making it entertainingly dramatic. Rabies is a topic that doesn't need any extra dollops of spectacle. (I am putting a lot of effort into refraining from frothy puns).

In the end, I'm glad I stuck with it. It's a somewhat broad-ranging and perhaps not ideally organized book, but interesting and informative. And, I suppose, who can blame the writers for wanting to, I don't know, make it tantalizing good fun? It seems we are wired to enjoy a good story even if (or especially if?) it involves the suffering of others.

And this book does linger on the wretched suffering of those who are afflicted. The book also explores how the infection has, for a good long time, captured the literary and visual imagination of the earth's human inhabitants. (I don't know if I ought to admit this, but I do hope Kate Beaton reads the book and does another series of Bronte-related cartoons. Really, there is endless Kate Beaton material in here, with all of the literary references and responses to rabies. Even in Wuthering Heights!)

But "Rabid" is not just about the relationship between rabies and vampires, werewolves, zombies and Wuthering Heathcliff. It addresses medical and social understandings of the illness throughout many cultures and eras. It explores how rabies affects our relationships with other mammals.

It takes from doctors and scientists of ancient Greece Rome to the vaccination work of Louis Pasteur and brings us to the present day, detailing some cases over the last decade or so in which people have survived rabies infections (though it isn't entirely clear whether it is because of medical intervention or just the rare rabies-destroying immune-system). The recent NY raccoon rabies outbreak, and the Bali rabies epidemic are both spoken of in here as part of a longer conversation about public health measures (and failures) related to rabies.

I also found the discussion of rabies and the limbic system, and rabies and the blood-brain barrier pretty interesting.

One thing that is terrifying about rabies, and perhaps responsible for human mythological obsession with it, is that it takes over an animal's limbic system in a way that causes the animal to do its bidding. That's some scary stuff, being basically possessed by a virus. Makes me think of Toxoplasmosis, only instead of giving themselves up to another animal to be eaten, the victim does their best to sink their teeth into another creature enabling the virus to pass along.

On that bright note, I will conclude my review. I think the next sciency-naturish books on my to read list are both by primatologist Robert Sapolsky. Yay!
Profile Image for Lis Carey.
2,135 reviews92 followers
January 14, 2019
This is a cultural history of rabies. Bill Wasik is a journalist, and Monica Murphy a veterinarian, and they've put together an amazing, and amazingly readable, account of the history, mythology, and science of rabies, the only disease we know that has a nearly 100% fatality rate.

Rabies kills, and while it's doing that, it drives is victims mad, with interludes of lucidity when they know what's happening to them. It also, though most of history, mostly reached us through the most familiar of our domestic animals, our dogs.

This is perhaps why rabies seems so tied to our myths of vampires and zombies.

The authors present to us the history not only of the cultural effects of rabies, but of the efforts to understand and control it.

For me personally, the most fascinating section is the one about Louis Pasteur. One of the founders of medical microbiology, Pasteur didn't just give us the pasteurization that makes our milk products safe. He also took the principle of vaccination that Edward Jenner had discovered when he created the smallpox vaccine in the 1790s, and expanded and developed it to create new vaccines--most notably for anthrax and for rabies. Pasteur is just an extremely interesting figure, and amazing in his dedication to, and success at, applying science to save lives.

The most appalling section, in some respects, is the return of rabies to Bali, to a great extent because authorities were so resistant to following sound advice from experts and instead committed themselves to approaches that only looked cheaper and easier in the short run. It's a valuable example of how to do things wrong.

Overall, an absorbing and revelatory book Highly recommended.

I borrowed this audiobook from my local library.
Profile Image for Lancelot Schaubert.
Author 28 books260 followers
February 16, 2022
Over break, I started Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus and I must say it’s one of the most brutal pieces of nonfiction to cross my desk. Wasik and Murphy headed up a research team for years, digging into the origins of the disease that took down Old Yeller. (Sorry to ruin it, Kiddo. The dog gets rabies).

They begin by blitzkrieging through a patchwork, non-chronolgical history of rabies in a tone that some might call disturbing and others downright macabre. Most insightful is how 50,000 people die every year from rabies simply because they can’t afford the cure. ”Rabies has always been with us,” Wasik remarks. “for as long as there has been writing, we have written about it. For as long, even, as we have kept company with dogs, this menace inside them has emerged from time to time and shown its face to us.”

full review @ http://lanceschaubert.org/2012/08/08/...
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